I thought I’d better try and post something before the year ends and then up popped Cathy at 746 books with her meme My Year in Books. I can never resist a quiz or a challenge, so I looked through some of the books I’d read this year and answered her prompts. Here is the result.
In high school I was Lost for Words (Deric Longden).
People might be surprised by Siracusa (Delia Ephron).
I will never be The Whistleblower (Robert Preston).
My life post-lockdown was Act of Oblivion (Robert Harris)
My fantasy job is The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Hilary Mantel)
At the end of a long day, I need The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)
I hate being A Keeper (Graham Norton)
I wish I had A Song for Dark Times (Ian Rankin)
My family reunions are Play All (Clive James)
At a party you’d find me with The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguen)
I’ve never been to The Salt Path (Raynor Winn)
A happy day includes House of Fun (Simon Hoggart)
Motto I live by: Kick Ass (Carl Hiassen)
On my bucket list is Hunting Season (Andrea Camilleri)
In my next life, I want to have Nada (Carmen Laforet)
If you feel like joining in, just do your own list from the prompts and let Cathy know.
This sculpture of a sleeping child is said to symbolize Norwegian optimism, survivability, and future life.
The design incorporates a separate pedestal, a rock from Hiroshima’s ground zero given earlier to Narvik by the mayor of Hiroshima. One of three peace sculptures in Narvik it was dedicated in 1956, 1995 and 2006 to remember the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
I was going to keep this one for mother’s day but I realised I’d forget all about it by next year so I thought it best to post it now.
It’s one I took when I was doing some work with the Elephant Help Clinic in Phuket many years ago. The baby elephant is wearing a lei because she’d just been blessed by the monks from the nearby temple.
Intrigued by the recent email from WP I thought I’d have a look at the new themes they are offering. I shouldn’t have!
I seem to remember that in earlier days I could activate a theme to see how it would look on my current site but this didn’t happen. Instead clicking ‘Activate’ meant that I accepted the site – and of course, I didn’t like it – but I couldn’t remember the name of my old site, nor could I find it again.
Many changes of site and I’m still befuddled, left with a site that has caused me to swear and shout at the screen. It actually transported a page from the site I’d tried earlier (but with that page’s wording etc. not fitting with my content) and I had to delete the pictures and text block by block and then save the blank page!
For tonight I’ll leave it and I maybe able to get back to it tomorrow but if not, you’ll know why my site looks odder than usual.
It’s probably all my fault. I should leave well alone, but it’s like touching the surface when it says Wet Paint – Do Not Touch, I just can’t resist clicking to see what is hiding behind the italics!
Something a bit unusual I think, for Mama Cormier’s Thursday Trios.
These are total immersion suits that will keep you alive for at least 6 hours in freezing water. I photographed these some years ago when I visited the workshop of Survitec in Sweden. Survitec is the worldwide group that manufactures and maintains rescue craft for ships, planes, oil rigs and container ships, as well as the above survival suits. Chances are that whatever cruise line or airline you are travelling on, its life rafts will be serviced and supplied by Survitec.
It’s something we take for granted, but I saw at first hand how important it is for this safety equipment to be in perfect order and how thorough the inspection is – right down to the medicines for pain, the batteries for the torches, and the bottled water, carried on board. So, a big clap for SURVITEC for keeping us safe, in the air and on the sea, and for the engineers and mechanics who test everything in freezing waters.
Excitement is high among fans of The Godfather trilogy, with the release of the newly re-mastered films, three movies that are Shakespearean in drama, operatic, and complex. As one of those fans I delved into my archives to search for photographs I took in Savoca, location of a few major scenes of The Godfather, and a reminder of one of those serendipitous moments that occur from time to time in one’s travels.
A shady spot at the Bar Vitelli
It was in Sicily, about 30 years ago, when we came across Savoca, a medieval village perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian coast. We had driven through the mountains from Taormina, stopping here and there to admire villages clinging to the sides of the mountains and blue seas far below on which floated toy boats. We pulled into Piazza Fossia, saw a parking place opposite a pleasant looking bar with terrace which meant we could sit outside rather than in the inky black interiors preferred by the Sicilians, and entered Bar Vitelli.
The Bar Vitelli
We ordered drinks, and the owner graciously waved me inside to see what else was available. What she really wanted me to see was her wall of photographs of the stars of The Godfather and various artifacts to do with the film. Most were of Marlon Brando – although he was never in Savoca for filming – Al Pacino, Simonetta Stefanelli, who played Apollonia in the film, and James Caan.
Then I made the connection. This was the small, cliff-side café where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) sat with his two bodyguards (one of whom would later betray him) and drank wine. In fact, this small patio with the dappled sunlight playing on the tables, was the location of several scenes filmed over a six-week period during the shooting of the first Godfather movie.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) had fled New York City to escape both police and the Mafia and came to Sicily to take refuge. Out hunting one day, he saw a beautiful Sicilian girl and immediately fell in love with her.
Back room of Bar Vitelli with photographs and connections to The Godfather
The Bar Vitelli, as it is now, was actually the home of the beautiful young girl he’d seen, and it is here he asks the café owner for permission to court his daughter, the lovely Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli). A later scene, depicting a traditional Italian family Sunday dinner and a still later scene of the eventual outdoor wedding reception, was also staged on the terrace of the Bar Vitelli and in the tiny piazza in front.
La Signora watched me carefully and when she could see that I was suitably impressed with the display she sat me down and told me tales of what it was like when she had Pacino and Brando in her café. Of course, I knew that Brando had never been there but everyone’s allowed a little bit of licence and in that small village of less than 100 inhabitants, The Godfather had sprinkled a little bit of its magic on both the village and the Bar Vitelli.
La Signora sits outside Bar Vitelli.
Savoca owes it’s connection to Hollywood to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola thought that Corleone, a town near Palermo and the book’s setting for The Godfather, looked too modern for his vision of the Sicilian village from which the family came. After much searching throughout the island, he found two small villages untouched by modernisation for his locations, – Savoca and Forza d’Agro.
At the time we were there, few tourists visited this remote village so La Signora was happy to spend time talking to us and showing us some more pictures of the stars of The Godfather, plus some newspaper cuttings she’d collected.
Back room of Bar Vitelli
I never got back to Bar Vitelli but I saw a short film a while back that showed it looking exactly as it had been when I visited, and as it was in the film – right down to the bead curtain in the doorway. La Signora is no longer alive and the bar/restaurant is now successfully run by her descendants: Godfather tours (along with Montelbano tours) are now big business in Sicily, and Savoca is a port of call on the trail.
It was nice to know that it hadn’t been commercialised at all and that the stone-flagged walls covered in greenery and the terrace with vine covered pergolas, still offer shade to travellers, along with coffee granita, supposedly the favourite drink of both Pacino and Coppola when they were there.
When I watch the 3-hour long film again on March 26th, I will be carried back 30 years to when I sat on Al Pacino’s chair in Bar Vitelli and heard first-hand from la Signora that, although Pacino may have come from New York, he was molto Siciliano.
This was the prettiest house we saw in Savoca, and we were told it belonged to someone very important. I wonder who it belongs to today?
In Savoca, apart from Bar Vitelli, the nearby Church of San Nicola was used as a location for the wedding of Michael Corleone and Apollonia. The church is only a short walk from Bar Vitelli.
Bar Vitelli is housed in the 18th century Palazzo Trimarchi, located in the Piazza Fossia, the town’s main square, near the Town Hall.
The Godfatherrevolutionized film-making, saved Paramount Pictures from Bankruptcy, minted a new generation of movie stars, and made the author of the book, Mario Puzo, rich and famous. It is compelling, dramatic, and complex and it started a war between Hollywood and the high echelons of the Mob as the makers had to contend with the real-life members of the Mafia. Location permits were withdrawn without notice at inconvenient times, Al Ruddy’s car was found riddled with bullets, and ‘connected’ men insisted on being in the cast (some were given film roles, whether due to threats or talent nobody knows)!
Outside the Caen-Normandie Museum of WWll in Caen, France.
Based on a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt which appeared in an issue of Life magazine in 1945, this sculpture has been much criticised by women’s rights groups since it was erected at the city-owned Mémorial de Caen. The French group, Osez le Féminisme, said at the time “we cannot accept that the Mémorial de Caen holds up a sexual assault as a symbol of peace,” but the city-owned Memorial de Caen refused to take it down. They based their objection on the fact that the sailor had been observed kissing ‘all he met, young and old’.
There are many copies of this sculpture (by Seward Johnson) in other parts of the world.
We are in Seville for both of my seats, the first one a lovely tiled seat in the Plaza de España which I’ve mentioned in another post here, a gorgeous extravagance of tiles, walkways, streams, bridges, more tiles, all within the Parque de Doña Maria Luisa.
And still in Seville we are on our way to the Alcazar when we came across this painter, oblivious to the passersby who photographed her and walked around her as she sat on a flimsy white stool. She worked quickly and the paintings looked good, good enough for her to sell quite a few while we stood admiring the finished pictures. By her feet she had different types of frames and she offered to change the frames of any on display if needed. I liked her bicycle behind the finished pictures, it made the whole thing seem so casual and a long way from high-art.
In the lovely Maria Luisa Park in Seville is a monument to the Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer and his poem Amor Eterno (Eternal Love). The statue depicts three women symbolizing the three states of love, excited love, possessed love and love lost. Behind them are two bronze pieces, ‘wounded love’ and ‘love hurts’ and a lifesize statue of the poet Becquer. The group of female figures is sculpted from a single piece of marble.
The Cypress tree around which the monument is located was planted in 1850, according to some, and in 1870 according to others, and it is one of the individual trees of the Parque de Maria Luisa. The monument can be found along the Avenue de Becquer at the roundabout of the same name.
View from the other side with statue of the poet Becquer and the two bronze figures with the seated females.
Hundreds of trees line the avenues with exotic touches provided by colourful tiled benches and Moorish fountains and pools and there are numerous seats around the park and the famous monument from which to enjoy this beautiful green space close to the River Guadalquivir..
The park was the site of the Expo 29, which had the Plaza de Espana as its centrepiece. My favourite way to see the park is to take a carriage ride through it – and yes, I know it’s a bit touristy and kitschy but nevertheless, it is a magical way to view this park. Large enough never to feel crowded, it is also a delightful place for a quiet stroll, a kids’ runabout, or a boat ride. A more energetic option is a bike for four with sunshade – the front seats have belts to strap wriggly young children in safely. They are for hire in the road opposite Plaza de España.
The Buffet table at your holiday resort looks stunning, the food arranged with aesthetic attention to detail, and dominating the centre is a beautiful carving in ice, a pagoda, a ‘plane, a fantasie in ice with coloured lights making it dance and dazzle, or a bird, its neck an opaque white and the translucent wings poised as though to take flight. In a few hours it will have dissolved into a puddle.
The people who create these centrepieces are artists in ice, men and women who have the ability to create these beautiful animals, birds, and flowers in frozen water to add a shimmering brilliance to the tables. And they do this knowing it will all disappear in a few hours. Performance art? Or art installation?
Khun Panas Suchantra at the Dusit Thani Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, was the resident artist in this ephemeral medium when I was last there. He is involved in every aspect of the work, from the early discussions with the F & B Manager, the chef, and the General Manager if the event is of importance.
I watched him work on various carvings over a three week period and never tired of the theatricality of the scene as he chipped and chopped, moved around with speed (the ice continues to melt as he works on it) and created delicate ice flowers and feathered wings with the precision of a mathematician.
Most ice-carving artists use many different types of chisels, plus a saw, to get their effects. Initally, a V-angle chisel is used to score the outline and to draw on the uncut ice, gouge chisels with their round tipped blades are used for making patterns, and flat chisels are for shaving. The saw is used for cutting and carving (see photograph below).
Khun Panas often works outdoors in a covered Pagoda overlooking the sea, a piece of performance art that is much appreciated by the visitors to the hotel who gather round to watch in silence, as a solid block of ice is transformed into a three-dimensional sculpture.
As he works, the mateial starts to melt and there is a sense of urgency about his actions but with a few quick movements he saws off a piece of the block on which he outlines a shape before beginning to chisel away the excess.
With the outer shape of the subject delineated he starts on the base cutting into the ice to enhance the main figure. After that it seems but a very short time before the ice-carving is complete, to be taken into the kitchens and stored in the freezer until it is ready to be placed centre table at the buffet.
Japan is the country that has elevated ice sculpting to high art: you only have to look at the Winter Festival in Sapporo to see what visions they create. It goes without saying therefore, that the best and most expensive tools come from that country, seasoned by years of experience in making Samurai swords.
This striking Merchant Seaman’s Memorial in Cardiff Bay is in the form of a sleeping face fused with a ship’s hull. This was made by riveting plates of metal together, a traditional technique used in early iron and steel ship building. The sculptor Brian Fell, whose own father had been a merchant seaman, was commissioned to create the work in 1994 by Cardiff Bay Arts Trust, Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, Merchant Navy Memorial Committee and Cardiff County Council and it sits in Tiger Bay, Cardiff.
The ports of South Wales played a vital role in supplying coal from Welsh mines to fuel the world’s ships, especially warships and the allies were dependent on merchant vessels to transport troops, food, ammunition, raw materials and equipment. Shipping lanes ran around Pembrokeshire and around the island of Anglesey to get to and from the port of Liverpool and to access the Atlantic; within these lanes German U-boats targeted ships, sinking them with torpedoes and sea mines.
Over 150 vessels were sunk off the coast of Wales during the first World War alone.
Depressed by the current news, the arguments, the depths to which politicians and supposedly clever men and women are sinking, I think back to how years ago Franklin D. Roosevelt was a beacon of light to a world deep in a fiscal depression. As he saw America through a war and put in action methods to help Europe build itself up after the second world war, he laid the groundwork for 20th century democracy in the western world. Less than a century later, we stand to lose it.
FDR had many faults, he was a human being after all, but he was a giant compared to what we see today.
Designed in 1896 to mark the 1000th Anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin, Heroes’ Square (a name given to it in 1932) was designed in 1896 for the celebration of the Millennium of Hungary. The 36-m high column, topped by the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown and cross, dominates the square. Around the base of the column are sculptures of Magyar chieftains from the 9th century mounted on horses. The colonnades that run behind the column hold 14 statues of earlier rulers and statesmen from King Stephen to Lajos Kossuth.
It’s a cold and wintry day here, the skies are grey, not blue like they were yesterday, and my mind flies back to this time last year in Lucerne where, along the lake dotted with boats and swans, the hot chestnut sellers were doing a roaring trade. I can smell them now and I long for some. Some Swiss chocolate wouldn’t come amiss either.
Today I changed my walking route, left the sea behind me and turned inland. I had no plans, no set route to follow and no idea of what I wanted to photograph.
First, I meandered through Los Altos Park which was deserted: it was eerie having this space all to myself. Normally a place full of dog-walkers, chattering children, and elderly folk sitting on the benches reading, today it was empty despite a temperature of 16 degrees, blue skies, warm sun and no wind. Covid space? Too late in the day? Who knows, but the place was all mine.
Not far from here was what used to be one of the area’s oldest hotels but unfortunately, it closed this year due to a series of misfortunes. The grounds are now deserted, the building, once a grand manor, now stands forlorn its windows no longer shining a light to welcome visitors. There was no one to disturb me or chase me away and I felt a terrible sadness at the loss of this great mansion, its tennis courts now a coach park, and its grounds being overtaken by nature.
Further into the gardens I came across these seats looking so forlorn as they sat amid the falling leaves. Nearby a couple of palm trees, stretched towards the light, valiantly fighting to survive. They were definitely in need of some TLC.
Although I felt sad that the bracken (or was it fern) was now running rampant over the garden wall I cheered myself up with the thought that this would provide a cosy home for the winter for the wildlife I’d seen on my walk (a couple of hedgehogs, lots of spiders and odd creepy-crawlies and I’m sure there were lots more keeping out of my way).
And then I came upon the sunken garden and this splash of colour, a glorious cascade of scarlet leaves, Virginia Creeper I think, that must have migrated from the wall of the old house and settled here to decorate these steps. And just a bit further on, the brilliant red of the Holly berries – a dazzling display of colour amid the dying of the year. It seemed the autumnal red of the Virginia creeper led me to the winter of the Holly.
First up is Impregnable and I give you The White Cliffs of Dover. We don’t know if they are but it’s a good song and a nice idea.
and not far from here is Dover Castle which commands the Strait of Dover, the shortest sea crossing between England and continental Europe, a position of strategic importance throughout history and whose underground tunnels housed troops. war rooms and hospitals from the early 19th century right up until the Second World War 1939-45.
The castle visible today was established by Henry II (r.1154–89), in the decade 1179–89, creating at Dover the most advanced castle design in Europe, a sophisticated building that combined defence with a palatial residence.
Next word is Volte Face and there are so many in the political field today that it’s hard to choose. However, anyone who reads politics these days must agree that the winner in any volte face competition has to be
I debated with myself whether or not to post these images as some might wish to argue that they are not sculpture. Yet they were brought into being by a sculptor whose name unfortunately, I have not been able to find (I am still searching).
So here is the Monument to the Scottish fallen in World War 1, an unusual sculpture of granite slabs slotted together like dry-stone walling which stands in a field adjacent to the British Military Cemetery on the road between St. Laurent-Blangy and Gavrelle and which was unveiled on 9 April 1922, the fifth anniversary of the battle. Located north of the village of Athies it is not far from the battlefields of Loos and Arras.
Around the field are individual stones with the names of Scottish battalions who fought here.
Clive Staples Lewis (known as Jack), the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was born in Belfast on November 29th, 1898 to the comfortably off Albert James and Flora Augusta Hamilton. He grew up happily in a house called Little Lea, a house that is generally credited as the one from which he derived the inspiration for the stories which have given pleasure to so many people. It was a large, gabled house overlooking the River Lagan, with dark, narrow passages and a library that was crammed with books including two of his favourites, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
During the second world war many London evacuee children were sent to live in Belfast’s supposedly fresh country air to avoid the bombing and the air-raids (despite the fact that the Northern Ireland capital was also subject to severe bombing). Like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, several groups of children stayed with Lewis at his country home and they played with Jack and his brother in the large overgrown garden in a Northern Ireland not then plagued by bitter civil strife, although there were always tensions.
The first Narnia book was published in 1950, since when they have sold more than 100 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages, opening up a world of magic to children who have lapped up the stories of the mythical world found behind the wardrobe.
As a child, C. S. Lewis constanrtly made up stories about a place he called “Animal-Land“, a land inhabited by animals, mice and rabbits who rode out to kill cats. These stories he related to his brother as they sat among the coats in their grandfather’s old wardrobe. He even created detailed maps of the fantasy world.
The Narnia story
By chance, four young children from wartime England discover a magic land called Narnia, lying beyond and through an ordinary wardrobe. Once through the wardrobe and into the mythical land, Edmund, one of the children, betrays his siblings to a wicked witch who has been holding the world of Narnia in thrall to winter. Spring can only come to Narnia and the betrayal be forgiven when the lion, Aslan, agrees to die at the witch’s hand.
Looking around the area in which he grew up, it is not hard to believe that his surroundings inspired the mythical land of Narnia. The craggy, heather-draped Mourne Mountains just a few miles away, Belfast’s own Black Mountain, and the lakes, rivers, forests and ruined castles with which the area abounds played their part as sure as the tales of hobgoblins and giants from Irish folklore and the Norse sagas which were, apparently, Lewis’s favourite reading.
CS Lewis spent his childhood holidays in Rostrevor, a small seaside town about 50 miles from Belfast which faces across the Lough to Carlingford in the Republic of Ireland. In one of his letters to his brother Lewis wrote that the mountains that loom above it (the Mournes) made him feel “that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge”.
At Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, a Narnia trail will bring you into the world of Lewis’s chronicles., meeting Tree People and beavers along the way. The walk starts and finishes within Kilbroney Park and the trail is entered, like the magical world of Narnia itself, through a ‘Wardrobe Door’ and along the way you’ll find features like Tree People, The Lamp Post, The Beaver’s House and Aslan’s Table.
Enter at your peril though, as the curse of the White Witch lies upon the land. It is always winter and Christmas never comes and you run the risk of being turned into stone especially if you eat the forbidden sweets.
If there is time and if you are fit, climb the mountain to Cloughmore (trans. big stone) the granite boulder that stands 1,000 metres above Rostrevor – a perfect model for Aslan’s altar – where the final chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe come to life. With a little suspension of disbelief you can imagine the creatures that worship there – the Well Women, centaurs and unicorns – and, of course, the great Aslan.
Before you go. The jury is still out on some of the places that inspired Narnia but the 17th century Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast is believed to be the basis for Cair Paravel, the royal fortress in Narnia.
NOTES; Unfortunately, it is not permitted to enter Little Lea, Lewis’s former home, as the house is privately owned but fans of the book seem satisfied to stand outside and gaze at the one-time family home.
Any tour of Lewis’s Belfast must encompass the magnificent bronze of The Wardrobe (called “The Searcher”) by Ross Wilson which has been erected in central Belfast and the many murals on Belfast’s walls which refer to the man and his work. However, Belfast today is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe and murals are changing rapidly. CS Lewis wouldn’t recognise today’s Belfast were he to return, from the magnificent Waterfront Concert Halls and Visitor Attractions to the Titanic Museum, but he would recognise that the soul of the city is still intact.
A private taxi tour is an excellent way of seeing the area and the Belfast Tourist Board will be happy to advise on this.
Known as The Amalfi Drive (formally Strada Statale 163) the coast road along the shoreline from Sorrento to Amalfi (and on to Salerno) is one of the most poular drives in Italy. Originally built by the Romans, it is one of the most photographed coastal routes in the world, seen in countless films like Under the Tuscan Sun and the Humphrey Bogart classic Beat the Devil (1957) featuring a young Gina Lollobrigida. Gamers may recognize it as a setting for fictional tracks in Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo 4 games. UNESCO actually named the Amalfi Coast an outstanding example of Mediterranean landscape and gave it a place on the World Heritage List.
Carved out of the side of the coastal cliffs for the greater part of its route, the road gives vertiginous views down to the Tyrrhenian Sea and to the towering cliffs above. It passes through Positano, the village of the rich and famous where fabulous villas accessible only on foot from above, by helicopter from the air, or by yacht from the sea, are built into the sides of the mountain, making it a major tourist attraction.
We originally took the guided tour by coach as this seemed the easiest way to experience the drive, and we were right, but we enjoyed the trip so much that we took the local bus a few days later and enjoyed it even more.
We decided against stopping off at Positano however, having been warned against this by a fellow hotel guest who had been left standing for hours as the buses returning from Amalfi were all full when it reached Positano so no chance of getting on one. Amalfi filled the day however, and we managed to fit in a trip to Ravello as well.
I have no argument with those who say that the 50 Kilometre Amalfi Coast drive is probably the world’s most beautiful and thrilling, piece of tarmac-ed sightseeing in Europe. If you can ignore the hairpin bends, the crazy Italian driving, the narrowness of the road that means your vehicle could possibly plunge into the churning sea below, the views are spectacular. The road is built at a very steep angle, zigzagging backwards and forwards and from the window of your vehicle you can see craggy rocks thrusting through the foamy waters below.
Despite the heavy traffic, all fighting for space on hairpin bends, the Amalfi Drive is a fascinating trip with every corner revealing an even more stunning view protected by Unesco. Pastel-coloured villages are terraced into the mountainside, medieval watchtowers guard the coast, and here and there huge colourful ceramic urns In yellow, blue, green and red, announce a “ceramic factory”. Among the green slopes of the cliffs are scented lemon groves and a profusion of pink and white oleanders, and enticing restaurants locate on precipitous corners daring you to stop for a coffee. This white-knuckle ride is one of Italy’s greatest wonders but it is not for the faint of heart. It is 80 kl of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below.
At the end of the Drive you have Amalfi, tiny, expensive but one of the easier towns of those strung along the coast to walk around. It rises gently up the hillside from the waterfront rather than clinging vertically to it like some of the other coastal towns, like Positano for instance. Hard to believe that this very touristy town had a glorious history as a maritime republic on a par with the better known Pisa, Venice and Genoa.
Nevertheless, Amalfi was a trade bridge between the Byzantine and western worlds for centuries with a population exceeding 70,000 (today, less than 5,000). Unfortunately, there are very few historical buildings of note as most of the old city, and its inhabitants, slid into the sea during the 1343 earthquake.
The bells were ringing when I took this photo in Stresa in Italy, a few years ago, so it was a Sunday. In the garden it was silent but outside it was a typical Italian Sunday, the animated passeggiata, the queues at the gelateria, and the family groups, grandparents to babes in arms, all out to enjoy Sunday.
I didn’t know what to expect of this Norwegian town that saw so much horror during the Second World War, a horror made worse I suspect, by it being inflicted on a neutral country. I found that the war had left a deep scar on Narvik, at its most evident in the Museum devoted to the conflict and in the many statues dotted around the town.
Lying just 137 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and like Andalsnes encircled by mountains, Narvik is one of the world’s most northerly towns, but warm North Atlantic Currents and the mountains that shelter the town ensure relatively stable and high water temperatures even in winter. Unlike the Arctic Sea, the Norwegian Sea is ice-free throughout the year which means that Narvik’s naturally large port is always negotiable; this allows boats of virtually any size to anchor.
Although known to be inhabited since the bronze age little was known about the inhabitants of Narvik until the port was developed to receive the ore from Sweden’s Kiruna and Gallivare iron mines in 1883.
Today this town, grown rich on its iron-ore industry, is a quiet place, but it was the iron-ore plus the advantages of its deep sea port that were the cause of its being invaded and subjected to a blitzkrieg that flattened the city in 1940.
A brief history of Narvik’s role in the war.
Poorly armed, neutral Norway became the first victim of the war in western Europe in April 1940. Neither the Allies nor Germany respected Norwegian neutrality and both sides wanted to get their hands on the iron ore mined in northern Sweden and transported to Narvik. Both Britain and Germany were a also aware of the importance of the town’s deep port and both had been pressuring Norway’s strict neutrality since early 1940 when they realized how important this ore was to the war effort. By April, both sides were hastily preparing forces to land in Norway (Britain had earlier sought to interrupt the flow of iron ore by mining the sea lanes) but Germany got there first.
A full scale invasion was launched on 9 April 1940 and in a series of attacks, the Germans seized Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. Despite initial gains and losses on both sides, the poorly equipped Norwegian and Allied troops were outnumbered and outgunned and by 2nd May most had been withdrawn. Fighting continued at Narvik until Germany invaded France and Belgium, after which the remaining 24,000 Allied troops were evacuated for use elsewhere. Before they left, the troops destroyed the port and the railway and blanket bombing by Germany followed. The town was re-built after the war, which accounts for its somewhat bland appearance today, notwithstanding one or two outstanding buildings.
The above image is Narvik’s National Freedom Monument, a mirrored triangle by Espen Gangvik, a gift from the Norwegian government to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1945. The inscription reads “For peace and freedom. Thanks to our allies 1940-45. Thanks to those who fought.” Made of high polished steel it is 59 feet tall and is located in the town center near the War Museum. Two more views of the Monument are below.
Narvik would appear not to have a lot of English-speaking tourists – although all the people in the town with whom I had contact, spoke the language perfectly – because there was little information in English about the statues and monuments, and the inscriptions on the statues were only in Norwegian. In fact, the tourist office assistant apologised charmingly about this fact, saying with a smile, “We have a long way to go yet, but we are trying”!
I bought an guide book in English from the Tourist Office, and as it was raining outside I put it straight into my bag. Not until much later did I find that it wasn’t in English, but in Norwegian! So, I got most of my information by stopping young people in the street and asking them: they were fine with the translations but not so good with the history!
This is Lille Petter by Jozef Marek. I couldn’t find any information about this sculpture, but his face is haunting and I’d love to know the story.
And here are a couple of very modern pieces, make of them what you will. The white one really has me puzzled.
I wouldn’t like you to think that Narvik is only about past war history, there is a lot more to do there if one has time. The great disadvantage of a cruise is the lack of time allowed to explore the places one stops in, en route. Narvik is teeming with things to do and places to go – apart from the War Museum where you can spend half a day at least.
Bandstand in centre of town
What To Do in Narvik
There are City Bike Rides on electric bikes with a guide, city walks with or without a guide, climbing and trekking in the mountains which surround the town, and of course, the world’s most northernmost animal park, the famous Polar Park, opened in 1994. Home to Norway’s large predators such as bears, wolves, and lynx, as well as deer, moose, reindeer and muskox, all in their natural surroundings, you can easily spend a whole day there seeing and interacting with the animals in their near-natural habitat. Add to this, dog-sledding, husky wagonning, snowmobiling in the winter light and you can see that Narvik offers the visitor a tremendous amount of things to do.
The very brave may fancy some ice-fishing, and best of all perhaps, the fantastic cable-car ride to the Narvikfjellet Restaurant at 656 m, which is the perfect starting point for hiking, skiing, northern lights hunting, snowshoeing and tobogganing. From the upper cable car station you get a panoramic view of the deep fjords, the historic iron ore harbour and Narvik city, which makes the cable car ride an experience in itself, much like the one I did in Andalsnes.
But I didn’t get to do any of these! I spent too long in the fascinating Museum of the War and then got so engrossed in chasing up the names of the artists who did the carvings that I missed my chance to visit the Polar Park. The weather turned nasty, it began to rain so the cable-car was out as the mountain top was covered in black clouds, so there was nothing for it but to adjourn to a warm coffee house and find some inner sustenance in the form of venison sausage and mash served with a local beer.
So, I’ll go back to Narvik one day, maybe in summer time, to do that cable-car ride, to get up close and friendly with a wolf, cuddle a husky and come face to face with a growling brown bear. And to get some better photographs on a day on which the sky won’t be black!
All photographs by Mari apart from the header one with the white deer, which is courtesy of Narvik Tourism.
I should have blogged ages ago about my June trip to Portugal but eye problems meant that computer work was frustrating. Then a couple of weeks ago I went on a Fjord cruise with a friend, despite not being a lover of cruising, mainly because it left from my local port of Southampton. The cruise was similar to a summer one I’d done a few years ago, but this autumn/winter one promised different views of Norway’s fjords.
To mark my return to blogging, I thought I’d start, not with Portugal, but with Norway, and not with the cruise, but with my time on land and one of the delightful towns we visited.
First up was the beautiful Romsdalsfjord and the town of Åndalsnes, located beneath towering snow-topped mountains at the mouth of the Rauma River. Its privileged position has made this Norway’s mountaineering capital, a centre for hiking, trekking and all season climbing in the impressive mountains that surround it, Romsdalshornet, Trolltinden and Vengetindan.
Entering the town in the early morning I was struck by its small size, it looked more like a village than a town, neat little white houses clustered around a small harbour (but a deep one that can accommodate large cruise ships which bring tourists all year round) hemmed in by snow-capped mountains.
Looming up from the middle of the town was a building of such modernity that one immediately knew that this was no ordinary town: anywhere that had such an outstanding piece of architecture just had to have a lot going for it.
As the sky gradually lightened, I became aware of movement above the town and noticed gondolas travelling to a nearby mountain from a dark garage-like building beside the modern one. Things were looking better and better.
The very modern building turned out to be the Museum and Mountaineering Centre, something of which the town is very proud, understandably so, as not only is it a design of total modernity but it has Norway’s tallest indoor climbing wall, it offers various activities, and the full mountaineering history of the region is on display . If you want to get fit, or just to ensure you are adequately prepared for the hike ahead, you could try the 210-metre challenge, or any one of a number of the challenging climbs that are available there. People come from all over Scandinavia come here just to use this climbing wall.
But if you’re not into climbing, or like me, not into that type of physical activity, there’s the Romsdalen Gondola right next door which will take you all the way up to the top of Nesaksla’s summit where you can walk around the top and look with delight at the magnificent scenery all around you: or climb further up to gaze on even more fantastic views of rivers, lakes, snowy mountains and tiny figures climbing up the mountain below. On the summit, the Eggon restaurant awaits with great coffee and freshly cooked Norwegian food sourced locally.
I choose the latter and spent a wonderful day just pottering on top of the mountain and watching the hikers struggle up and down the rocky face of the ridge opposite. Below were lakes, rivers and the town of Andalsnes itself, and what seemed little pockets of cultivated ground. The weather changed hourly it seemed, and went from dark and stormy to incredibly bright and sunny – but it was always cold.
That’s where the wonderful mountaintop restaurant came into its own with nourishing food, great coffee and a selection of cakes to die for. I’m talking saucer-sized pancakes with hot sour cherries topped with whipped cream and chocolaty things that I just had to refuse or I wouldn’t have made it down the mountain again.
I could have headed for the Romsdakstraooa steps and climbed all the way to the top of Mount Nesaksla, 708 metres above Romsdalsfjord, for the same scenic views but although I love snowy mountain tops and awesome views, I gave this one a miss as I’m well past my mountain-climbing days!
Andalsnes is buzzing both summer and winter. It’s a perfect base camp for anything from mountain hiking to summit hikes, long treks with stunning vistas of the Romsdalsfjlla mountain ridge, or leisurely car, coach or train journeys through some of the most wonderful scenery you will ever see.
The town is a transport hub, being the final stop on the Rauma Railway which offers a scenic two-hour journey considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful train journeys (Lonely Planet, 2022). It follows the course of the Rauma River as it descends into Lake Lesjaskog along which it forms many magnificent waterfalls, travels through lush valleys and mountains and crossing over the famous, natural stone Kylling Bridge with a dramatic view of the foaming river below.
That’s enough to tempt me back: that and the sour cherries on pancakes with cream!
All photographs used in this blog are mine, apart from the two which I have credited to the respective photographers, and Visit Norway which gave me permission to use these images.
Next stop NARVIK, occupied by the Germans during WWll where there is a Museum devoted entirely to its place in that war.
I don’t know if the challenge is still going and I can’t seem to find a recent post from XingfuMama, but I thought I’d post this one anyway.
I’ve posted today on Southend-on-Sea but I didn’t include this picture in the piece as I thought it would be nicer as a stand alone picture. The seat in the picture is one on Southend-on-Sea Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.34 miles.
The wrought iron detail is fascinating, covering as it does the Victorian/Edwardian era clothes, boating, building sandcastles, and the donkeys which were used to give rides on the sands. Not too comfortable on which to spend a long time, but pleasant enough for a short stop on the way to the end of the pier.
Once a place where Kiss-me-Quick hats were almost as obligatory as a fistful of ice-cream from the famous Rossi’s, Southend-on-Sea is now a City and looking to become a proper grown-up resort.
Sunday excursions to Southend-on-Sea by train were our big break from the workplace when I lived and worked in London way, way back , so when the opportunity came to experience a day out in that fondly remembered place, my one desire was to once again walk the 1.4 mile Pier.
There wasn’t time to do much more because we had to fight our way to the end of the pier in a gale blowing off the North Sea, a bad-weather day that kept most people off the Pier apart from a few fishermen and a few intrepid walkers. The train still runs down the pier and we caught it back to the town (I can’t get used to calling it a city when there is a beach and an amusement park in front of me) when the clouds really turned black.
From the town there is a lift to the esplanade (photo above) but for those who don’t mind a climb and some extra leg-work, the walk down the slope past cafes, shops and ice-cream parlours is quite pleasant or there is a way down incorporating steps and platforms.
The kiosks and entertainment spots I remembered on the Pier are no longer there, just a vast expanse of boardwalk leading you to the end. So, here are just a few photographs of the Pier at Southend-on-Sea on a rainy, windy, day, when some flashes of blue lit up the sky to make us think the weather was on the change but it wasn’t, it was just nature teasing us.
And when you’ve taken it all in, the views to Southend, the views across to Grain Island and the Kent Coast and the grey waters of the North Sea, then head for the modern tea-rooms, or sit on the steps as many do to enjoy the last rays of the sun, on the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world.
Some people say that the Blue Plaque to Laurel & Hardy, on the pier, says all you need to know about the place, but it’s got more, a lot more, going for it, not least great restaurants and lovely people.
Recommendation: I was lucky enough to be taken to a decades-run family restaurant noted for its seafood, and if you need a recommendation I can say without hesitation that I had one of my best meals, ever (middle skate with brown butter if you’re asking) at
Tomassi’s, 9 High Street, Southend-on-Sea SS1 1JE. Open daily until 7 pm. Phone 01702 435000
I know this isn’t a site on which to post cartoons but this one just seems to apply to everyone and I thought it would make everyone smile on a day on which the news makes laughing or smiling increasingly more impossible.